Today’s pick – a cautionary tale of tyrannical regimes, prejudice and state control gone completely out of control – is presented in partnership with the Leeds Film Player, a new platform of hand-picked cinematic treats from our friends at Leeds International Film Festival.
Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival last year, Assassins (2020, 104 mins,12) is an investigative documentary of an assassination plot that's as farcical is it is horrifying.
On February 13th 2017, two young women were filmed on CCTV in the busy Kuala Lumpur International Airport, playfully attacking a fellow passenger. However, it soon transpires that the victim is Kim Jong-nam, the exiled half brother of North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, who promptly dies within the hour.
What follows is revealed in shocking and surprising coverage of the investigation and the trial that ensues. Whilst there are obvious despotic political machinations at work, there are also intimations of even deeper influences, but Ryan White’s film rightly focuses on the women themselves.
Indeed, the sad and desperate story that brings Siti Aisyah and Đoàn Thj Huong together in a murderous plot, is exposed with surprising access to the notoriously authoritarian Malaysian judicial system, prison audio recordings, and an abundance of personal phone footage and text messages.
Whilst the film directly implicates North Korea’s totalitarian willingness to commit international crimes with impunity (which will be a surprise to no-one), there are also intriguing leads left unfollowed, amidst a labyrinth of insidious diplomatic brinkmanship, which inevitably strengthens it’s own power, as it preys on the most vulnerable.
Many of our favourite childhood films have been celebrated and re-explored through the medium of film to bring new life to the stories we love. However, our family-friendly pick for World Book Day, whisks us away to the theatre instead of the cinema for a recorded theatrical performance of the iconic I Want My Hat Back, based on Jon Klassen’s classic children’s picture book, from the National Theatre Archive. The perfect ode and celebration to live art and storytelling.
If like us, you are missing your favourite arts venues and the thrill of being part of the audience, this is a whimsical and entrancing treat will help tide you over until we feel safe to return.
Just like in the book, Bear's hat is gone. He loves his hat. He wants it back but through the magic of theatre, the play of the familiar tale is both respectfully nostalgic but also delightfully innovative, as the book is built upon through flawless songs, comical performances, and expansive storytelling.
The perfect child friendly play brought to you through the magic of the film to be enjoyed at home and most importantly entice your little ones back to their favourite book!
I Want My Hat Back is available to rent and stream via National Theatre at Home.
Highland heist high jinks abound in today’s pick - socially conscious comedy drama, Restless Natives (1985, 90 mins, PG).
Lesser known than Bill Forsyth’s much-loved 80’s trilogy (Gregory’s Girl, Local Hero, Comfort & Joy), and let’s include 1979’s wonderful That Sinking Feeling for that matter, Restless Natives similarly combines gentle humour with a focus on working class lives and a distinct Scottish identity.
Dreaming of a better future for themselves, and to escape their mundane, urban lives, friends Will and Ronnie decide to target rich international tourists by holding up their sightseeing coaches. Armed with just a toy gun and dressed as a clown and wolfman, their growing reputation and celebrity threatens their friendship and their future, as the police start to close in.
Set within the context of record unemployment and a recession that particularly hit the manufacturing industries in the North of England, Wales and Scotland in the early 1980’s, Restless Natives taps into the disaffection, frustration and poverty that resulted from a London-focussed conservative government, whose policies continued to exacerbate the UK’s wealth inequality.
Whilst the film makes great use of Edinburgh itself and the majestic Scottish countryside, it also balances this by locating many scenes within the housing estates and brutalist architecture of its two major cities, for example in a pivotal moment in the Glasgow Necropolis graveyard.
It’s this emotional connection to the social environment and sense of place that grounds the film and allows for the more whimsical, romantic, and mythic elements of the story to shine through. With a rousing theme by Big Country, nonetheless Restless Natives exudes a genuine comic warmth and sense of fun. Can Will ever find a cure for his warts?
Dr Andy Moore (@andymoore_), long-term Friend of the Picture House and Lecturer in Film, Exhibition and Curation at the University of Edinburgh, has just got back from a digital visit to Sundance Film Festival. Always one to champion the treasures which can be found when you have the opportunity to explore the festival circuit, Andy has been kind enough to write up a blog post for the Friends of Hyde Park Picture House on some of the films at this years’ festival which he’s most excited about. You can find that here from 10.30am tomorrow morning (Sunday 14th).
But, in anticipation, one of the standout titles for Andy was Censor, the feature debut of Welsh director Prano Bailey-Bond which was shot just near us in Pudsey. So, for tonight’s #HydeParkPick we decided to delve into Bailey-Bond’s back catalogue and point you in the direction of Shortcut (2016, 5mins) which you can find to watch for free on Channel4.com in the #FrightBites collection here.
Shortcut is a succinct little genre morsel featuring a bad boyfriend, a sleeping girlfriend, a fast car and a full moon. When Kurt takes a shortcut he enters a supernatural realm and is forced to sacrifice a little part of himself.
While tonally different to Censor, checking in with Shortcut feels like a great way of getting to know a filmmaker we’re excited about while we wait patiently for these festival jewels to finish their run on the circuit and start to hit cinemas in the coming months.
To mark this week’s Children’s Mental Health Week, today's family-friendly pick is Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are (PG, 2009, 99min).
This glorious and intricate exploration of childhood imagination and feelings is a great opportunity to encourage younger viewers to discuss and understand more complicated emotions.
Based on the iconic much-loved children’s book by the highly influential Maurice Sendak, both the book and film pack a lot into the simple and whimsical tale of Max, a young boy dressed as a wolf, escaping into an imaginary world after being sent to bed with no supper for questionable behaviour.
This fantastical and visually stunning live-action film is unique in both tone and style, and deals with comparatively darker themes than the book. The visually astounding gigantic wild things perfectly encapsulate both fuzzy child abandonment alongside unsettling peril, which may have littler ones hiding behind the sofa but will also provide the opportunity to explore challenging yet rewarding ideas and concepts around childhood, relationships and maturity.
We would recommend accompanying this film with an essential wild rumpus!
Where the Wild Things Are is currently available to stream on Netflix.
Our Hyde and Seek pick for young audiences this weekend is the astonishing The Secret of Kells (2014, PG, 76min) from the formidable Cartoon Saloon animation studio.
Heavily inspired by Celtic and medieval art and the first in director Tomm Moore's 'Irish Folklore Trilogy’ (alongside Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers), The Secret of Kells is a glorious celebration of Irish culture, heritage and design. Different aspects of Irish mythology are woven together to deliver a historically rich and wistful tale. Just as the film’s namesake, The Book of Kells, was painstakingly illuminated with detailed imagery and colour, the animation process has been given the same attentive and intricate treatment throughout.
This clear admiration for the past adds a rich depth to the film's visuals, characters and story, resulting in a truly memorable movie that should appeal to audience of all ages.
The Secret of Kells is available on the BBC iPlayer, until Monday evening.
We’re always on a cinematic treasure hunt to unearth films from remote locations, and today’s unlikely find, streaming on Netflix, is Egyptian crime drama Cairo Station (1958, باب الحديد Bāb al-Ḥadīd, 74mins, 12).
Both a fascinating social document and surprisingly bold treatment of erotiscism and violence, given its age and historical context, Cairo Station is a neorealist film noir from one of Arabic Cinema’s most important directors, Youssef Chahine.
In the bustling main Cairo train station, a destitute and troubled Kenawi (played by Chahine himself), is given a job selling newspapers, but amongst the crowds of travellers and co-workers, he becomes dangerously obsessed with beautiful illegal cold drinks vendor Hannuma.
Completed almost exactly halfway between the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952 and the repressive nationalisation of their film industry in 1966, Cairo Station screened to outraged audiences when it was released, who were expecting more conventional and traditional melodrama. Within the relative artistic freedom of this period, Chahine was able to push the boundaries of what could be represented in contemporary film, in a society of changing values and beliefs, culture, politics and wealth.
It’s a vivid portrayal that in it’s short running time is nonetheless able to examine and question gender-based prejudice and violence, masculine entitlement, economic privilege and worker’s rights – in a swirl of life as one of the world’s oldest civilisations assimilates modernity.
Cairo Station is streaming now on Netflix, together with a large selection of Youssef Chahine’s films.